LOS ANGELES (CBS.com/AP) — California prosecutors on Tuesday charged two anti-abortion activists who made undercover videos of themselves trying to buy fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood with 15 felonies, saying they invaded the privacy of medical providers by filming without consent.
State Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the charges against David Daleiden of Davis, California, and Sandra Merritt of San Jose. The two operate the Irvine-based Center for Medical Progress (CMP).
Prosecutors say Daleiden, of Davis, and Merritt, of San Jose, filmed 14 people without permission between Oct. 2013 and July 2015 in Los Angeles, San Francisco and El Dorado counties. One felony count was filed for each person. The 15th was for criminal conspiracy to invade privacy.
Becerra says they used a fictitious bioresearch company to meet with women’s health care providers and covertly record them.
On CMP’s website, Daleiden wrote the following statement:
“The bogus charges from Planned Parenthood’s political cronies are fake news. They tried the same collusion with corrupt officials in Houston, TX and failed: both the charges and the DA were thrown out. The public knows the real criminals are Planned Parenthood and their business partners like StemExpress and DV Biologics—currently being prosecuted in California—who have harvested and sold aborted baby body parts for profit for years in direct violation of state and federal law. We look forward to showing the entire world what is on our yet-unreleased video tapes of Planned Parenthood’s criminal baby body parts enterprise, in vindication of the First Amendment rights of all.”
The conversations included officials from Planned Parenthood and StemExpress, a California company that provides blood, tissue and other biological material for medical research and had received fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood.
In one of the pair’s videos, Daleiden poses as “Robert Sarkis” of the phony Biomax Procurement Services and is shown discussing liver tissue with the chief executive of StemExpress at a Northern California restaurant.
Abortion opponents said the recordings showed Planned Parenthood was illegally harvesting and selling the organs. Planned Parenthood said the videos were deceptively edited to support extremists’ false claims.
“As we have said from the beginning, and as more than a dozen different state investigations have made clear: Planned Parenthood has done nothing wrong, and the only people who broke the law are those behind the fraudulent tapes,” said Mary Alice Carter, interim vice president of communications for Planned Parenthood, in a statement.
In April of last year, Daleiden said in a Facebook post that California Department of Justice agents raided his home, seizing all of his video footage along with personal information.
Since then the case had gone largely quiet, with virtually no revelations about the investigation and no indication that the charges were coming before they were filed Tuesday in San Francisco Superior Court.
The case is one of the first of high-profile prosecutions for Becerra, who left the U.S. House to take over for Kamala Harris after she became a U.S. Senator.
Daleiden and Merritt had previously been indicted in Texas on similar charges in January of 2016, but all of the charges were eventually dropped by July as prosecutors said a grand jury had overstepped its authority. The grand jury had originally been convened to investigate Planned Parenthood, but after finding no wrongdoing turned around and indicted Daleiden and Merritt instead.
The videos reignited the American abortion debate when they were released in 2015, and increased Congressional heat against Planned Parenthood that has yet to subside.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)